Signed By: Zelda is a refreshingly humorous and clever mystery for kids. In it, author Kate Feiffer takes her readers along for a ride as eleven-year old neighbors Lucy Bertels and Nicky Gibson collaborate to solve the mystery of Grandma Zelda’s sudden disappearance. Lucy is a budding graphologist (handwriting expert extraordinaire), and the newest resident of a West 68th Street apartment building in New York. Nicky is Lucy’s overhead neighbor, a boy whose TOA (Time-Out Average) means he spends three days out of four in trouble with his dad. Nicky’s Grandma Zelda is an extraordinary lady who has had more adventures in her lifetime than most could imagine. Pigeon frequents the windowsills of each apartment and is a friend to all three. It is Pigeon who delivers a mysterious note that will unite Lucy and Nicky in the search for the elusive Zelda.
The addendums to the book are almost as much a pleasure to read as the story itself. Feiffer’s research into graphology and her interest in the characters she has so skillfully constructed is self-evident. In the addendums, she provides such unexpected treats as a handwriting quiz for children and the recipe for Grandma Zelda’s famous Zeldaberry pie. Recommended for middle grade readers, especially for those who enjoy mildly flawed characters and a dash magical realism. Readers who enjoy Signed By: Zelda may also find satisfaction with Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt or Horten’s Incredible Illusions by Lissa Evans.
Camden Yards is sparkling with Oriole Magic, and a new generation of fans is energized by the success of this season’s team. For young fans that can’t get enough baseball, there are several new series titles which offer plenty of action on the diamond.
The Topps League series by Kurtis Scaletta follows Chad, the new batboy for the minor league Pine City Porcupines. Chad wants to help the hapless team, but in Jinxed, the first in the series, he encounters nothing but trouble, including a jinxed superstar. These illustrated easy chapter books throw readers a magical curve ball since Chad can solve problems using information from his baseball cards. Plenty of detailed on-field action as well as inside-the-clubhouse glimpses will keep readers hooked.
Super-Sized Slugger by Cal Ripken is the second title from Baltimore’s Iron Man and Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd. Overweight thirteen year old Cody Parker moves to Baltimore, and the combination of his size and new kid status make him the prime target for teasing. He lives for baseball, but when he beats out the school’s number one bully for the starting third base position, Cody’s life gets even worse. Then the school is struck by a rash of thefts. With this mystery in need of solving and exciting baseball action as the team plays for the championship, this is a fast-paced page turner.
Ted & Me is the newest entry in the popular Baseball Card Adventure series by Dan Gutman featuring time traveling Joe "Stosh" Stochack. This time the FBI wants Stosh to travel back to 1941 to warn FDR of the attack on Pearl Harbor. But Stosh has another idea. Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters of all times, despite losing five years of playing time to military service. What if there was no World War II? What if Stosh can actually prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor and convince Williams not to serve in the military? The time travel element combined with baseball anecdotes help create another perfect strike in this series.
Poor Claudette. In Jorge Aguirre's Giants Beware!, her peaceful life within the fortress of Mont Petit Pierre is just not nearly exciting enough. Being a tomboy, the daughter of the town blacksmith, she is rambunctious and loudmouthed and yearns for action. Like killing the giant rumored to live on the mountain outside of town. With her timid brother Gaston and her ladylike friend Marie, she blusters her way out of the fortress gate and into the Forest of Death, beyond which lies the Mad River, and then Giant’s Peak.
Can these three kids, armed with a wooden sword, Marie’s intelligence, Gaston’s fortitude, Claudette’s stinky feet, and a pug dog named Valiant, survive in the wilderness and defeat the giant? Of course they can, but not in the ways they might have expected. The adults in the story are distinguished by exaggerated or even buffoonish characteristics, but their actions are driven by realistic, largely generous motives.
The story strikes a fine balance between being action- and friendship-driven. The art is similarly well-balanced: Rafael Rosado’s ink drawings are strong and lively, with expressive characters and well-drawn landscapes. Digitally applied color is natural, bright, and nonintrusive. Fans of Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules books and Jeff Smith’s Bone series will snap this title up.
In Flabbersmashed About You, by Rachel Vail, Katie Honors describes her hurt feelings when her “best friend in the whole entire world” plays with someone else at recess. Illustrator Yumi Heo’s bright childlike pictures capture Katie’s loneliness and bruised feelings perfectly. She’s “Flabbersmashed” about her best friend, but learns that playing with other children can be fun, too.
Bullying and loyalty are the two issues tackled in Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship. Mac was a good apple. One day, he fell asleep in the rain and Will the Worm got into his head (literally!) Will and Mac become fast friends. They have fun together flying kites, swimming and reading; but when Mac and Will return to the orchard, the other apples tease them and call Mac “rotten.” Even the crab apples won’t play with them. Will leaves the orchard in hopes that it will stop the teasing, but Mac is sad without his new friend. As an added conversation starter, the author tucks a bystander into the story in the form of a Yellow Apple. Yellow Apple doesn’t bully the friends, but doesn’t stick up for them either. The illustrations were done in oils on canvas. It is written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway (Ernest’s grandson), whose beautiful artwork enhances Bad Apple’s message of ignoring bullies and staying true to your friends.
Horsefly and Honeybee by Randy Cecil tells a tale of enemies who must work together to defeat a common foe. Honeybee tries to take a nap in the same flower as Horsefly and a terrible fight ensues, leaving each with just one wing. Left vulnerable, they are both caught by a hungry bullfrog and must work together to escape. The new friends soon realize that there is room enough for both of them in the flower. Cecil also illustrates the book. Using oil on paper, he cleverly manages to show a myriad of expressions on the simply illustrated, bug-eyed characters, which is sure to delight the reader.
The fairy tale world is one that is familiar to all of us. Hearing the words "My, what big teeth you have!" or "Somebody has been eating my porridge!" instantly transports us into a magical land of evil queens and brave heroes and heroines. Actor and debut author Chris Colfer takes readers on this journey in The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.
Twins Alex and Conner have not had much magic in their lives lately. Their father was killed in a car accident earlier in the year, and their mother has had to work double shifts just to keep the family afloat. Quiet, bookish Alex has had an especially hard time since her father died, since she has no close friends other than her brother. Neither twin holds out much hope for a happy birthday until their oft-absent grandmother appears for a visit. Among the birthday gifts she brings is "The Land of Stories", the book of fairy tales from which their father and grandmother used to read during happier times. When Alex takes the book to bed with her and it begins to hum loudly and glow, the magic truly begins. The twins literally fall into The Land of Stories.
As they try to find a way home by collecting magical items for the Wishing Spell, Alex and Conner encounter many of their favorite characters. They are not exactly as they remember them from the stories, however; Cinderella was scorned by her people for being lower class, Goldilocks is a master swordswoman on the run from the law for multiple crimes, and the Big Bad Wolf Pack (descendants of the original) is working for the Evil Queen who tried to kill Snow White. Will the twins find all of the items in time to return home to their mother?
Colfer credits his grandmother for his writing skill, as she often edited his childhood writing by tearing it up and telling him he could do better. He infuses his Land with witty humor and quick action. Alex and Conner complement each other as the star-struck fairy tale fan and cynical wise-cracker respectively. Kids will love going along with them on the ultimate scavenger hunt and learning what happened to their favorites beyond “happily ever after.” The audiobook is narrated by Colfer himself, and his voice adds child-like humor and whimsical charm to his tale.
In Frank Cottrell Boyce's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, we meet The Tootings, your average twenty-first century British nuclear family: there's Dad, recently laid off from his job assembling tiny things; Mum, who works at Unbeatable Motoring Bargains; black-clad teenage Lucy; Jem, who tries to keep his head down; and Little Harry, the baby. Dad's sudden joblessness is a bit worrying to the rest of the family, but not to him. He's a very optimistic type, and rejoices in all the time he suddenly has on his hands to fix things around the house. He's a something of an inventor, like Caractacus Pott, the dad in Ian's Fleming's original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, published in 1964. And like the original dad, his inventions do not work very well.
He's driving the family crazy, in fact, and so, to distract him, Mum brings home a decrepit pop-top 1966 camper van for him to fix up. A real rustbucket, but a vehicle from back in the days when any reasonably careful adult could figure out how to fix his or her own car. Dad and Jem take the whole thing apart, assess their needs, and then hit up the local junkyard for parts.
What they find at the junkyard, and the effect it has on the camper van when they install it, plus the brief wink to Fleming's original inspiration for the story, are pleasures this writer would not dilute for any reader.
Although the story is inventive and picturesque, with billionaire crooks and a visit to Madagascar and a guest appearance on a French reality show called Car Stupide, most of the humor in this very funny novel is a result of the family's interactions with each other. Occasional British terms (lift, motorway), while initially puzzling for young readers, are quickly made clear by the context. Joe Berger's lively cartoon illustrations depict each phase of Chitty's reincarnation in loving detail and bring the resourceful Tootings to life.
Jennifer E. Smith’s first middle grade novel The Storm Makers begins on a deceptively peaceful morning on a farm in Wisconsin. It was early when 12 year-old Ruby McDuff spied the tall, disheveled stranger in a wrinkled blue shirt with silver buttons. With her nosed pressed to the glass of her bedroom window, she watched him yawn before strolling out of the family barn and away toward the main road.
Miles away from the nearest town and a day’s journey from the blissfully normal suburb where they used to live, the McDuff‘s tiny farm isn’t exactly walking distance from anywhere. So what could explain the stranger with the long legs and bright buttons ambling away down the lane?
Once, Ruby would have leapt to wake her twin brother, Simon. Once, they would have made up stories together about where the stranger had come from, or searched together for clues. That was all before, though. Before they had turned 12; before their parents left their jobs to live off the land; before, when Simon and Ruby had been two parts of one whole. These days Simon has been distant in a way he never was before. Alternately restless and sullen, teasing and resentful, Simon’s moods seem as changeable as the weather lately. Even the dogs seem to avoid him.
Yet even as they seem to drift apart, avoiding each other this summer seems impossible. An oppressive drought has settled in and boisterous, heated winds toss dust from one end of the farm to the other, coating all who venture outdoors in a fine, powdery grime. Little can the twins imagine how this drought, the stranger in the barn, and a coming storm will change everything they have known, about their world and about themselves. For Simon is a Storm Maker, one of a group of incredibly rare individuals with the power to influence the weather. And he just may have flared up in time to stop a disaster of untold proportions. That is, if Ruby can protect them both from the dangerous ambitions of the most powerful Storm Maker.
A spirited read, The Storm Makers is recommended for readers who enjoy a blend of adventure, magic and mystery.
Amy Hest brings us the new adventures of Annie in her latest book Letters to Leo. First introduced to readers in Remembering Mrs. Rossi, Annie lives with her dad in New York City and is now in fourth grade. Her new best friend, a floppy-haired pup named Leo, is helping her cope with schoolwork, an icky boy, and a best friend who is moving away.
Annie writes letters to the dog, and reads them to him at night. Through them, readers learn about her hopes and sorrows, many of which revolve around her widowed father. This epistolary format and chatty tone makes for easily manageable reading segments, good for those kids for whom reading is a struggle. The drawings that decorate Annie's letters were done by Julia Denos, who is perhaps best known as a picture book illustrator, and they reinforce the book's upbeat, chirpy tone. Letters to Leo evokes empathy with a light touch.
Author Christopher Healy offers the refreshing The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, delving into the lives of four unsung heroes known collectively as Prince Charming. Inside we discover...
Frederic: When he met Ella once upon a dance floor, proper Prince Frederic (a.k.a. the Prince Charming of Cinderella) literally swept her off her feet. After his teensy-toed love had been located, they became engaged. But then Frederic discovers a note from Ella, gently informing him of the end of their engagement and her intent to pursue adventure. Ella’s flight and Frederic’s determination to follow ultimately lead this Prince Charming (and the other three of that moniker) to find one another.
Gustav: Gustav has always been overshadowed by his older brothers and wrestles with the need to prove himself a hero. It doesn’t help that his love, Rapunzel, ended up rescuing him with her daring, persistence and magically healing tears. Now a laughingstock in his own kingdom, by the time he meets Frederic, Gustav is disgruntled and more determined than ever to prove himself.
Liam: Of all the heroes worth singing about, the bards really dropped the ball when they failed to name Liam, star of Sleeping Beauty. Since childhood, Liam has performed feats of the greatest daring and has enjoyed an excellent reputation among his people. Yet when his intended, Briar Rose, reveals her waspish, mean personality and Liam decides to call off the wedding, his subjects are anything but supportive. Rejected and determined to restore his reputation as a Good Guy, Liam is off questing for adventure when he encounters Frederic and Gustav.
Duncan: Duncan is a bit of an odd duck who since the time of his princely boyhood has been convinced that he is gifted with magical luck (he isn’t). He also has some rather off-putting habits like loudly naming any animal he sees. Happily, his bride Snow White loves him dearly. Yet sometimes even Snow needs a break from Duncan, and it is when he is left on his own in the forest that he meets the trio of princes. From there, the real adventure begins.
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a story of many parts: know-it-all dwarves, dastardly thieves, kidnappings and well-mannered giants. At its heart though, it’s a story of the friendship between the four flawed, fastidious, courageous and just plain weird individuals behind the mask of Prince Charming. Written to appeal to middle-grade readers, the humorous novel will also tickle the fancy of older readers. And with the movie rights under contract and two more books expected in the series, the adventure will soon continue.
Traditional children’s songs and nursery rhymes get a modern twist in two new picture books. I Know a Wee Piggy, by Kim Norman, follows the familiar cumulative rhyming style of that childhood favorite, "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly". Instead of swallowing creatures of ever greater size, this little piggy wallows in the kaleidoscope palette of a colorful country fair. Illustrator Henry Cole uses acrylic paints and colored pencil on hot press watercolor paper to create the brightly colored, action-packed artwork. Piggy leads his boy on a merry chase as he samples red tomatoes, green grass, pink cotton candy, black paint, gray clay, and more. All that madcap action results in a perfectly piggy abstract body painting which ends up winning first place in the fair’s art show. If it hasn’t already, the song is guaranteed to stick all day long!
"Hey Diddle Diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon". After hearing the old nursery rhyme one night, the cows in the barnyard debate whether it is indeed possible for a cow to jump over the moon. Cindy Moo by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Jeff Mack, explores that age-old question. Even though the other cows scoff, Cindy Moo is of the mind that if the cow in the rhyme can jump the moon, by golly, she can too, and sets out to prove it can be done. After her first attempt fails – she gets no farther than over a prickly weed – the other cows say “I told you so” and suggest she give up her quest. But Cindy Moo has made a vow, and being a very determined cow, she continues to give it a go, alas, with no better results. Crestfallen, she thinks perhaps the herd was right, until she spies the moon’s reflection in a large puddle. Will Cindy Moo finally jump the moon? Colorful pencil illustrations fill the pages with bustling bovines, but Cindy Moo, whose brown and white coat is topped by a pink bow, stands apart from the crowd in looks and determination.